The Supreme Court’s ruling In Harris v. Quinn seems limited in its scope. According to Matthew Rothschild of the Progressive, the Court’s decision could be best called “odd.” The result could have been a disaster for public sector unions. Instead, the decision is limited to home care workers in Illinois. Rothschild does not the language of Judge Samuel Alito’s decision, which could set up more problems for public sector workers in the future. Norman Goldman, a former lawyer and current radio talk show host, made a similar comment. He noted that the Court sometimes rules by small steps. If the Court maintains its current line up or adds more conservative justices, this decision might be just the first slice. However, if more liberal justices are put on the Court, this case could be forgotten and meaningless.
In other news at the Court, the same justices who took rights from unions gave them to employers. In the Hobby Lobby case, the Court ruled that an employer could limit what kind of health coverage it provides employees based on the owners’ religious beliefs. Again, the case was limited to certain kinds of health insurance. However, this case is chilling to me. What if an employer’s religious beliefs held that women should be in the home? Could that company not hire women or not promote them to positions of management? Or, as in the case of Christian Scientists, what if the owner followed a religion that did not believe in traditional medical care?
Both cases are troubling because they are so limited in their scope. Following Goldman’s reasoning, the real problems for workers might be the result of cases that build on each other. The Supreme Court has always been a political institution. Working people need to remember what the Court has done when it comes time to vote. Justice may be blind, but judges are not.
I was listening to Thom Hartmann’s talk show a couple of days ago and heard some frightening news. Since 2008, 800,000 Americans have fallen out of the middle class. Hartmann added to this woeful statistic recent discoveries about McDonald’s and Walmart. McDonald’s gives its workers advice on how to limit their diets and how to access social services. Similarly, Walmart was called out for holding a food drive for its low wage employees. In both cases, taxes of the middle class are a type of corporate welfare because they keep employees of Walmart and McDonald’s sheltered, fed, and medically secure. Hartmann looks at these trends and sees one outcome: the death of the middle class.
[On Sundays, this blogs looks beyond the work world in “Sabbath.”]
Simplicity and Lies
Everyone was shocked a little over a week ago when one man with a gun killed 26 people at a school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. We can’t understand why anyone would do such a thing, which is logical since such actions betray any definition of reason. The President and other officials weighed in on the event, and quickly the subject turned to how to prevent such event in the future. That’s where it gets messy.
From Revolutionary War heroes to Civil War heroes to cowboys to tough guy detectives, America has always told stories of heroes that use guns. Today’s action movie posters frequently show a well-known star holding a weapon he or she would never touch in real life. We are also a culture of hunters and sports shooters, law-abiding citizens who use guns to pursue happiness. None of these examples are meant to knock guns or their owners, just to show how pervasive guns our in our cultural.
What can we do about gun violence? I don’t know. But I do know what we should do: Stop talking to each other like adults talking to young children. Last week, the NRA and its allies claimed that armed guards or teachers could have stopped the killer. There logic is that it takes “good people with guns to stop bad people with guns.” Such a claim simplifies reality, and it is a lie. The organization’s real goal is to prevent any kind of restriction on guns sales. Rather than address that question, it turns to pseudo-moral language that clouds policy issues.
On the day of the shooting I was listening to political talk radio. A caller said that we shouldn’t have any kind of gun control because the real problem is evil. That kind of thinking is also a dangerous simplification through a false moral rhetoric. If we say a problem is rooted in “human nature,” it cannot be changed. The classic way of framing this claim is “Guns don’t kill people. “People kill people.” However, if they are doing the killing with a gun, if they kill more people at one time with guns, it’s nonsensical to dismiss the role of the gun in the murders. In recent decades both Australia and England changed gun laws after mass killings, and the number of mass killings has greatly decreased in both countries. My point is not to argue for any type of law. It’s about language and how we talk to each other about solving a problem.
If we speak to each other in language that simplifies reality, we will never change. In fact, we will move backward to a time where fear ruled over reason. Do adults have the right to own any kind of weapon? If not, what are the restrictions? Should we have national laws, or should the laws vary from state to state? This kind of question brings us to a place where we can debate specific actions. White hat and black hat language is an excuse for inaction. People who really care about the deaths of the children and teachers in Sandy Hook should honor their memory with honest language about the tragedy and its aftermath.
There is no louder or more passionate voice supporting American workers and unions than radio and TV host Ed Schultz. Ed’s been off the air for over a week, and now we’ve learned why: His wife Wendy has ovarian cancer.
As Ed has said many times on his show, Wendy “changed his heart.” Ed was a conservative. Wendy ran a social service agency, I think it was a homeless shelter or food pantry. She gave Ed a different way of looking at life and caring about people.
Now he will care for her, putting the love of his life before the cameras or the microphone. And that’s the right thing to do. We wouldn’t expect anything less from Big Eddie.
My thoughts and best wishes are with Wendy, Ed, and their family. Be well.